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Trials Digest

Psychologist Working as an Independent Contractor at a California State Prison Alleges She Was Fired for Reporting Sexual Harassment by Its Muslim Chaplain

Labor & Employment
Termination/Constructive Discharge/Retaliation/Harassment/Sexual

Kings County Superior Court
Bradley v. California Department of Corrections, No. 01C2235
Stephen R. Henry, Jury Trial. Verdict/Judgement: 10/19/2005

Court of Appeal of the State of California 5th Appellate District. Affirmed, January 17, 2008 (Bradley v. California Dep't of Corrections & Rehabilitation, 158 Cal. App. 4th 1612 (2008)

Gross Verdict: $1,082,613.13

Trial Counsel:
Plaintiff:
Mark D. Apelian, Bryman & Apelian, Calabasas

Defendant:
Barbara Seidman, Office of Attorney General, Sacramento, Susan Slager, Office of Attorney General, Sacramento.

Facts & Contention:

From August 1999 to October 1999, Plaintiff Sallie Mae Bradley, a 54-year old psychologist, was placed by a registry she had been employed by to work as a therapist at Corcoran State Prison, a maximum security penitentiary in Corcoran, CA. Plaintiff was transferred to the state's Substance Abuse Treatment Facility next door to the prison in August of 2000. About a month later, Ms. Bradley complained to her superiors about a Muslim chaplain, Omar Shakir, age 48, a full-time employee at Corcoran that had been bothering her. Plaintiff claimed that even after she made it clear to him that she had no interest in a romantic relationship, Mr. Shakir engaged in a pattern of inappropriate behavior and harassment. This included knocking on plaintiff's door at 4:00 a.m., making sexually suggestive comments, groping her, and leering at her in a way that made her extremely uncomfortable.

Soon after plaintiff complained to the prison about Shakir, her employer (the agency who had placed her at the prison) was told that Ms. Bradley's services were no longer needed.

Shakir was never disciplined after plaintiff's accusations were made, and he continued to work at the prison. Thereafter, Mr. Shakir was actually given a pay increase. In March of 2001, Shakir was fired after being arrested on unrelated charges of sexual battery, false imprisonment, and for making physical threats against a prison guard and another woman.

Plaintiff sued defendant California Department of Corrections, alleging that even though an employment contract between Plaintiff's employer (the registry who placed her in the prison) and the prison identified plaintiff as being an independent contractor, (which would have prevented her from suing the defendant), plaintiff's counsel argued that she was a "special employee" of the prison defendant and thus, protected. In addition, plaintiff's counsel alleged sexual harassment and retaliation, claiming that defendant CDC allowed a few isolated incidents of harassment to take place at Corcoran Prison and that the prison unfairly punished her for reporting it.

Defendant contended that all of Shakir's alleged sexual harassment took place outside of the workplace. Defendant further contended that it never directly hired plaintiff because she was an employee of an outside registry that connected workers to certain jobs with the CDC, and thus not a CDC employee and further pointed out that the CDC never paid plaintiff's wages directly to her or provided her any work related benefits. The defense further added that plaintiff was moved from institution to institution because she was hired to fill in voids in psychiatric care and never received a promise of a long-term contract at any state institution.

Defendant further argued that the agency who directed plaintiff to the CDC never fired plaintiff; rather, they discontinued her services at that location and placed her with another prison without incident. Finally, the defense claimed that there was absolutely no connection between plaintiff's allegation of sexual harassment and her ultimate termination.

Claimed Injuries
Emotional distress.

Comments:
The plaintiff's underlying case had to be tried twice due to the inappropriate testimony given by a witnesses during trial. This caused a mistrial. A second jury trial concluded in October of 2005.

The defendant CDC filed its appeal with the 5th Appellate District which affirmed plaintiff's verdict and held (as a case of first impression) that Dr. Bradley was a "special employee" of the CDC within the meaning of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Further, the Appellate Court held that the jury's conclusion that the CDC did not take immediate corrective action to end Shakir's harassment was supported by substantial evidence. The Appellate Court noted that "Shakir was engaged in classic stalking behavior, intimidating and humiliating Bradley and had taken full advantage of his free access to her at work to accomplish his inappropriate goals. The sum total of CDC's inadequate response was to refer the complaint to a bogged-down investigative process and to caution Bradley to protect herself."

As a result of the perseverance of plaintiff 's counsel, Ms. Bradley's case was tried twice, it was then taken up on Appeal and, not only was plaintiff made victorious at the end with a result in excess of one million dollars, her nearly eight year fight resulted in the creation of new California law that has already assisted others similarly situated to be treated properly and fairly.

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